International Reviews: Chicago Cubs
See Also: 2014 Cubs International Review
See Also: 2013 Cubs International Review
See Also: 2012 Cubs International Review
Top signing: OF Jonathan Sierra, Dominican Republic, $2.6 million.
Total signings: 34.
The Cubs broke through their international bonus pool in 2013-14, a class that has already made a strong impact on a farm system that has graduated its top talent to the major league club. That year, the Cubs signed Venezuelan shortstop Gleyber Torres, who is now their top prospect and one of the best shortstops in the minors. Their biggest bonus that year went to Dominican outfielder Eloy Jimenez, who signed for $2.8 million and is now their No. 9 prospect. Their third-highest bonus ($1.625 million) went to Taiwanese righthander Jen-Ho Tseng, who reached high Class A Myrtle Beach last year and ranks as their No. 20 prospect.
The penalty for going over your bonus pool at that time was one year without being able to sign any pool-eligible players for more than $250,000, so the Cubs were in the penalty box during the 2014-15 signing period. Without access to the higher priced premium talent that year, the Cubs aggressively targeted 2015 players a couple of years in advance, which every team does to a certain degree, but took on more of a priority for the Cubs given their situation. They decided to blow through their pool again last year, spending more money than any team on non-Cuban international free agents. They also gave $3 million to Cuban outfielder Eddy Julio Martinez.
Most of their “July 2” signings officially signed in August, unless otherwise noted. Of those players, several teams felt the best prospect the Cubs signed was Dominican shortstop Aramis Ademan, who got $2 million. Ademan played in the International Prospect League and trained with Amauris Nina, the same trainer who had Jimenez. Ademan was the shortstop on the Dominican team at the COPABE 15U Pan American Championships in Colombia in 2013, standing out for his baseball savvy and gamer mentality. He’s slightly built at 5-foot-10, 150 pounds, using a short, simple swing from the left side with a contact-oriented approach to put the ball in play at a high rate. He’s a line-drive hitter who has shown some ability to work the count and uses the whole field. Ademan might rack up some doubles, but he’s likely always going to have well below-average power, so his offensive game is dependent on his ability to make contact and get on base. Even though Ademan isn’t a great runner or a flashy, quick-twitch type of athlete, scouts largely felt comfortable with him playing shortstop. He has smooth actions, with soft hands, quick footwork and is a fundamentally sound player with a good internal clock. He has a solid arm and gets rid of the ball quickly. Ademan is advanced enough that he could start in the Rookie-level Arizona League, though that’s still to be determined.
The biggest bonus the Cubs awarded last year for a non-Cuban player was the $2.5 million they gave to Dominican outfielder Jonathan Sierra, who trained with Jaime Ramos and played in the Dominican Prospect League. While there was more industry consensus on Ademan, the Cubs had a significantly higher evaluation of Sierra than many other clubs did. Sierra has a tall, high-waisted frame at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, showing average raw power from the left side. Some clubs who saw Sierra during the summer of 2014 saw him hit in games, but others had much more reservations about his hitting. The Cubs saw a buggy-whip swing, advanced pitch recognition and strike-zone awareness to go with consistent game performance. Other clubs saw a hitchy swing and struggles with pitch recognition that contributed to a high swing-and-miss rate, with his stroke getting more body-heavy instead of trusting his hands as July 2 approached. Sierra is a decent athlete for his size and should play either left or right field. Like Ademan, he might also get to start in the AZL.
The top pitcher the Cubs signed last year was 17-year-old righthander Jose Albertos for $1.5 million from Tijuana of the Mexican League. Since the Mexican League team takes 75 percent of the player’s bonus and the player only keeps 25 percent, Major League Baseball only counts 25 percent of a Mexican League player’s bonus against the bonus pool, so the Cubs will save some money on their eventual overage tax payment to the commissioner’s office after the signing period ends. Albertos is 6-foot-1, 185 pounds with a promising combination of stuff and feel for pitching. He touched 92 mph before he signed and has since been up to 94 with good angle. He’s poised on the mound, throwing strikes and changing speeds well with a slider that has a chance to be a plus pitch and feel for a changeup as well to profile as a starter. He’s polished enough that he will come to the United States this year.
The Cubs gave seven-figure bonuses to a pair of Latin American catchers. One was Miguel Amaya, a 17-year-old who signed for $1 million out of Panama. Amaya represented Panama at multiple international tournaments, including the COPABE 15U Pan American Championships in Colombia in 2013, then the following year at the 15U World Cup in Mexico, where he made the tournament all-star team. Amaya earns glowing reviews for his defense. He’s a skilled receiver who is quiet behind the plate, soft hands, already frames pitches well and good lateral agility to block pitches in the dirt. His pure arm strength is just fringy, but that should improve. He earns high praise for his intangibles, vocal leadership and high baseball IQ that managers like to see in their catchers. Amaya’s defense jumps out more than his hitting, but he’s not an empty bat. He’s 6-foot-1, 185 pounds with a good setup, staying loose and balanced at the plate with a compact righthanded swing and a chance to grow into 10-15 home runs.
There was more surprise when the Cubs signed Venezuelan catcher Henderson Perez for $1.25 million. Several teams said they didn’t get an opportunity to see Perez, who trained with Ciro Barrios. His program has delivered several players to the Cubs, most notably Gleyber Torres, Willson Contreras and Mark Malave (a $1.6 million signing in 2011), among many others. Perez, 16, is a lean 5-foot-11, 160 pounds and impressed the Cubs with his athleticism behind the plate, strong arm and ability to hit in games with a line-drive, all-fields approach and a high-energy style. After signing, Perez played in the Liga Paralela, the minor league version of the Venezuelan League, where he batted .185/.279/.204 in in 61 plate appearances with six walks and 17 strikeouts.
The Cubs signed Perez at the end of August, then a couple of weeks later signed his brother, 19-year-old Herson Perez, for $250,000. At 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, Perez is also a catcher, but he plays second base, third base and the outfield as well. The Cubs liked his athleticism and speed for a catcher, along with his arm strength and more advanced power at this point than his younger brother. Perez hit .263/.313/.333 in 64 plate appearances in the Liga Paralela with three walks and 11 strikeouts.
Yonathan Perlaza is a 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop the Cubs signed for $1 million who earned a lot of praise for his offensive ability. Perlaza has a compact frame (5-foot-10, 195 pounds) that’s short but strong with explosive hand speed. He starts his swing with a simple toe tap and wraps the bat in his setup, unleashing quick hands that generate excellent bat speed from both sides of the plate. That quick stroke allows Perlaza to turn on premium fastballs with sharp exit velocity for a lot of loud line drives. His body is fairly filled out already, so there isn’t a ton of physical projection left, but he already shows good power for a middle infielder. He does have some swing-and-miss tendencies, but he makes quality contact when he connects, uses the middle of the field and shows enough patience to draw some walks. He hit fairly well for his age in the Liga Paralela, batting .269/.370/.346 in 92 plate appearances with two home runs, 13 walks and 19 strikeouts. Perlaza is athletic and runs a tick above-average, but he’s more gifted offensively than he is in the field. While he might starter his career at shortstop, it’s unlikely he will spend much time there, especially after committing 16 errors in 22 games in the Liga Paralela. If he can clean up his defensive actions, he should be able to fit as an offensive-oriented second baseman, drawing comparisons to Luis Valbuena and Odubel Herrera. Perlaza trained with Douglas Aguiar.
The Cubs are one of the most aggressive teams signing amateur players from Asia. They signed 18-year-old outfielder Kwang-Min Kwon out of South Korea for $1 million, the top bonus for an Asian amateur in 2015. Kwon is a physical lefty at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds who played center and right field in high school but fits better in right field, with average speed and good athleticism for his size to go with an above-average arm. Kwon impressed the Cubs with his power potential, showing mainly pull power in games right now but with the ability to use the whole field and develop more opposite-field game power in time. While it’s common for hitters in Korea to bail out with their swing, Kwon has a more conventional batting style to U.S. born hitters.
Dominican shortstop Christopher Morel signed for $800,000 in August. He’s a 16-year-old who looks even younger, both in his face and his slender 6-foot-1, 160-pound frame. The Cubs were drawn to Morel for his bat-to-ball skills and ability to stick at shortstop. He’s a righthanded hitter with good hand-eye coordination and sneaky pop for a physically underdeveloped player. Morel has good hands at shortstop, with average speed and arm strength that both have a chance to tick up once he gets stronger. Morel’s timetable will be delayed, however, because he supposedly tried to walk through a glass door that he thought was open but was closed, cutting his right arm in an accident that required surgery. It wasn’t as bad as the injury Giants outfielder Gustavo Cabrera suffered a few years back, but Morel likely will be out until midseason of the DSL. The Cubs were the most active team in Mexico last year.
Their two biggest signings were Albertos and 17-year-old shortstop Isaac Paredes, who got $800,000. Paredes, who was with the Mexico City Red Devils. Paredes was the shortstop and top hitter on Mexico’s 15U World Cup team in 2014. At that tournament, Paredes batted .429/.474/.686 in 37 plate appearances with three doubles, three triples, one walk and only one strikeout. He made the tournament all-star team, earned the tournament’s outstanding defensive player award and even made a pair of appearances on the mound. At 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, Paredes impressed the Cubs with his hitting ability and offensive upside with a chance to stay at shortstop. He drives the ball well to all fields, with a mix of bat control and extra-base thump. Paredes is an average runner with an above-average arm. He’s coming over to the AZL for 2016.
The Cubs gave two pitchers $600,000 bonuses last year, including 17-year-old Dominican righthander Yunior Perez. He trained with Franklin Ferreras originally as a shortstop but moved to the mound around a year before signing. At a projectable 6-foot-4, 190 pounds with a high waist and long arms, Perez has the makings of a future power arm. His velocity was inconsistent before signing, but he’s already been up to 93 mph with good movement and late finish, with a chance to be throwing in the mid-90s or better in the next few years. He’s also shown ability to spin a breaking ball that could develop into an average pitch, with a fairly easy delivery and good arm action, especially for a conversion guy.
Brailyn Marquez also signed for $600,000, the biggest bonus for a lefthander in 2015. A 17-year-old from the Dominican Republic, Marquez is 6-foot-4, 185 pounds and projects to be a physical pitcher with power from the left side, touching 92 mph right now. He’s shown good feel for pitching as well, throwing strikes at the MLB international showcase last year in February when he threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings with two strikeouts and no walks. Marquez has flashed feel for both his curveball and changeup, with his curve more advanced at this point.
Venezuelan outfielder Jose Gutierrez, 17, signed for $550,000 after training with Dennys Suarez. At 6-foot, 180 pounds, Gutierrez generated divergent reviews from scouts, but the Cubs liked his athleticism, switch-hitting ability, speed and arm in center field and switch-hitting ability. His swing is better from the left side, but scouts from other clubs considered Gutierrez more of a raw, free-swinging project who would need a lot of development on both sides of the ball. He batted .205/.228/.260 in 79 plate appearances with one home run, three walks and 27 strikeouts, committing six errors in 20 games in the outfield.
Luis Diaz is a 16-year-old Dominican shortstop who signed for $300,000 after training with Franklin Ferreras, the same program as Yunior Perez. Diaz has a smaller but strong, compact build at 5-foot-9, 160 pounds with good athleticism, plus speed and sneaky pop for his size. He showcased as a shortstop but isn’t the smoothest defender and might fit better at second base.
Orian Nunez is a 17-year-old Dominican infielder who signed for $100,000 in September out of the same program as Ademan. Nunez is 5-foot-10, 160 pounds and has split time between second and third base, standing out more for his gamer mentality and heads-up play than his raw tools. He’s a righthanded hitter with gap power.
Abraham Rodriguez, a 17-year-old who signed for $100,000 in July, was teammates with Amaya on Panama’s 15U World Cup team in 2014. Rodriguez batted .273/.286/.303 with one walk and three strikeouts in 35 plate appearances at that tournament. At 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, Rodriguez is a lefty who splits time between the corner outfield and first base, with the Cubs drawn to his bat and power potential.
Cubs Shake Up Front Office
The Cubs reshuffled roles in their front office, created new roles and are searching for a scouting director outside the organization.
The Cubs also signed a few other notable players out of the Mexican League in addition to Albertos and Paredes. Faustino Carrera, a 17-year-old lefthander, signed for $250,000 in July from Tijuana. He’s not that big (5-foot-10, 165 pounds) but he has room to add weight to his skinny frame and add to his fastball, which is up to 89 mph, showing the Cubs feel to spin a curveball as well. They also signed two players from Yucatan in July for $150,000 each, 18-year-old righthander Javier Assad and 18-year-old catcher Kevin Zamudio. Assad has sturdier frame at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds with heavy sink on a low-90s fastball that touches 94 and flashes two average pitches in his slider and changeup, with his slider more advanced. Zamudio is 6 feet, 200 pounds with a chance to be an offensive-minded catcher with solid power. He has good arm, but he was originally a third baseman who moved behind the plate before signing, so he’s still learning the position.